Regular readers know that when we mention the Seattle Times, we're usually mocking it. Recently, we even accused its editorial pages of being "a clown car of bad ideas."
Because, well: There was that whole endorsing George W. Bush thing in 2000. And the paper's holy war against the proposed state income tax last year. Plus the cheerleading for right-wing idiot Susan Hutchison in 2009. We could go on.
But on no subject has the conservative Seattle Times been more consistently out of touch with liberal Seattle than its hatred of pot. Take, for instance, the drumbeat of one-sided articles celebrating marijuana busts. Or, most memorably, the editorial board's 2003 opposition to a city initiative designed to make pot possession the lowest enforcement priority. At the time, the Times warned voters that the initiative was "a dopey idea" that "broadens the reach to recreational marijuana."
In other words: marijuana, bad.
The Seattle Times said it would be appropriate to discuss changing pot policy only "in the forum where this issue belongs: Congress. Not here."
So you could've knocked our stoned, tax-and-spending asses over with a feather when the Times editorial board wrote on February 18: "MARIJUANA should be legalized, regulated and taxed." And: "The push to repeal federal prohibition should come from the states, and it should begin with the state of Washington."
Then—in one week—the paper published three more pro-pot editorials.
"I like to think that as an editorial page, we are open to changing our minds on issues, and this is one where the thinking of the board has changed," editorial page editor Ryan Blethen, son of Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen, explained in a phone interview. "It would be sad if it were just sticking with what our position always was. If that was true, we'd still be supporting a gold standard."
This ability to slowly, eventually evolve on some issues doesn't mean the Seattle Times editorials now carry a lot of weight. (After all, the newspaper's opposition to that city pot initiative was worth fuck all—voters passed it by a 13-point margin.) But it is a marker of a change in conventional wisdom among a certain suburban conservative set. It's also an announcement that Seattle's last bastion of drug-war defense has fallen. (All the elected officials representing Seattle who could be reached by press time, from city council members to state legislators, said they supported legalizing marijuana.) In other words, negative political ramifications for wanting to legalize pot—a radical position only 13 years ago—are now nonexistent here. At every social and political stratum, wanting legal pot is Seattle's new status quo. And the final proof is that the Seattle Times, the voice of the status quo, is publicly acknowledging this fact.
Alison Holcomb, director of the ACLU of Washington's drug policy project, sees the newspaper's shift like this: "We've moved beyond the point of all of us agreeing that prohibition is a failure to insisting that our legislatures actually craft a new solution."
But not everyone is doing triumphant bong hits. Immediately after the first pot editorial came off the press, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy director Gil Kerlikowske (also the former Seattle police chief) contacted Ryan Blethen. Kerlikowske wanted to sit down personally with the paper's full editorial board. "I drew the obvious conclusion," said Bruce Ramsey, the Seattle Times editorial writer who wrote the first unbylined piece. "He didn't like our editorial."
Kerlikowske's office wouldn't respond to a request for comment, but Ramsey said the meeting is definitely happening, set for Friday, March 4—an apparent attempt by the federal government to pressure the state's largest newspaper into opposing marijuana legalization.
Blethen isn't backing down, however. Asked if the paper would buckle under federal pressure, he says, "I doubt it. We don't have any plans to." As for future pro-legalization editorials, Blethen says, "I'm guessing we will do more."
In fact, the day before Kerlikowske arrives, the paper is hosting an online forum to talk about a bill in the state legislature introduced by state representative Mary Lou Dickerson (D-36) that would tax and regulate marijuana.
Blethen said his paper's new position had been "percolating," but the legalization bill in Olympia was the reason that he—and his father—came on board. "It was a good time, I thought, to step forward and take a stand on it and try to give some more momentum to her bill," he said. "By next year, we will have built up enough pressure to get something done. This is the beginning of our involvement. But eventually we will get there, even if not this year."
He also doesn't see this as a liberal position. "It's not just liberals who use marijuana," said Blethen (who doesn't smoke pot but says he knows people who do). "I would venture to guess that there are a lot of good conservatives who do it."